New South Wales (NSW) is an Australian country on the eastern side of the continent. Countries neighboring NSW include Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland, with Sydney the capital city of New South Wales. Sydney is the most populated city in the country. The issue of drugs has received much attention in the continent of Australia including both legal and illegal drugs. This is because the side effects resulting from their use of drugs to the individual and society, in general, are detrimental. Examples of such harms include family disruption, social problems, problems related to mental health, deaths caused by overdosage, crimes related to using of drugs, and spread of diseases, such as Hepatitis C and HIV. The estimated losses arising from abuse of drugs include decreased productivity in workplaces, wasted time on activities aimed at enforcing the law to minimize the use of drugs, accidents, and crimes (Lewis 2003, p. 376).
According to Lewis (2003, p. 380), the National Drug Strategy requires the police department to work toward prevention of the production and distribution of illegal drugs, prevention of crimes related to drug use, and establishment of policies to regulate the use of substances like tobacco and alcohol. However, it has been realized that despite police efforts to minimize substance use in NSW, drug consumption is still high. The situation has forced the police department in New South Wales to operate under harm minimization principles. Harm minimization program does not allow consumption of drugs, but the program aims at minimizing and preventing side effects of consuming both legal and illegal drugs. Harm minimization program includes strategies designed to regulate distribution and manufacture of legal drugs (supply reduction), strategies designed to prevent consumption of poisonous drugs (demand reduction), and strategies aimed at minimizing harmful effects related to drug users and the society (harm reduction). Examples of harm minimization programs applied by the police department in NSW include methadone maintenance programs, and needle syringe programs.
NSW Drug Laws
The laws of NSW prohibit supply, possession, production, and use of drugs declared illegal in the country. Examples of drugs categorized as illegal in the NSW include cannabis, coca, and opium. The act phohibits possession, distribution, and use of these drugs. The seriousness of the offense is determined by quantity of drugs. It is illegal to posses and cultivate prohibited plants, own equipments used in consumption of drugs as well as participation in drug-prohibited related offenses (National Library of Australia 1983, p. 299).
This laws prevent people from importing or exporting illegal drugs to other countries. The are three major offenses realted to drug trafficking in NSW. These include possession, use, and supply of illegal drugs (National Library of Australia 1983, p. 310).
Ownership of drugs, consumption, and supply of drugs are the main drug offenses in NSW. Certain legal elements must be proved by the prosecuting body for each of the abovementioned drug-related offenses. The possession of illegal drugs is a crime in NSW. The prosecuting body must prove that the convicted person possessed drugs through provision of evidence that illegal drugs were found under the care of the person. Evidence that the concerned person had knowledge of possessing illegal drugs should also be provided. The situation in which the discovery of the drugs was made can be used to tell if the person was aware of it. The police should provide evidence that drugs were found on the person’s house or car. For instance, an individual cannot deny that he or she does not know a thing concerning drugs found in his or her pockets, sock, or bag. Drugs found hidden in private places, such as one’s bedroom, is a clear indication that the owner is aware of them. However, ownership of property, such as a car or house, is not a guarantee that what is inside it belongs to its owner. Should the drugs found in one’s house be owned by another person, the owner of the house should not be held responsible. Custody to direct physical possession of a drug, for instance, pocketed drugs whereas control means consumption, keeping, or sharing drugs. Nobody should be held responsible for drugs found in rooms that are shared by many people. Individuals found using cannabis for medicinal purposes should not be convicted.
According to Jiggens (2008, p. 274), self administration/consumption of illegal drugs is prohibited in NSW. The police should provide evidence that the consumed drug in question is outlawed. In most cases, police officers depend on information provided by the convicted person because it is difficult to analyse a drug, which has been consumed completely. In addition, doctors can perform blood test after the victim has been arrested. It is illegal to use benzodiazepines, except under authorization of the doctor.
Consumption or possession of such drugs without the directives of a health physician is illegal. Methadone should not be injected into the bloodstream including individuals under methadone program. It should be used in right proportion and for the purposes intended by the medical practitioner. Methadone should be used orally. It is illegal and against doctors instructions to consume it through other methods. An individual should not administer or permit another person to administer drugs to other people even if permission is granted. This includes drink spiking. Drink spiking involves addition of an illegal drug to someone’s drink without his or her knowledge. This is a crime in NSW. Death resulting from injections of illegal drugs leads to conviction of the person responsible for the act. The person is charged with manslaughter, a situation in which the intention was not to harm or terminate the life of the victim. Incase of emergency, such as drug overdose, the victim should seek immediate help from the hospital (Jiggens 2008, p. 275).
Suppy is a broad term, which means ownership of drugs intended for distribution, accepting to take part in distribution, and selling drugs. If an individual is found to have given drugs to another person or reported to have had an intention of selling drugs, regardless of the quantity available, the police can charge him or her with supply. An individual can also be charged with supply if he or she admits to supply drugs even if they are not ready to participate. If an individual persuades another person to buy substance in the name of a drug which is not the one as a matter of fact, the person is considered guity of the crime. For instance, the person is found guilty if sells icing sugar naming it heroine to another person. The person is guity of the crimes regardless of whether the act is intentional, or made by mistake. An individuals can be suspected to be a drug trafficker if found in possession of certain amount referred to as trafficable quantity. This amount is not necessarily much but it depends on the specific drugs. Should the police find an individual possessing trafficable amount, the person is given a chance to prove that his or her intention was not to supply the drug but it was for disposal or personal use (Degenhardt et al. 2006, p. 11).
The supply of an illegal drug with the exception of cannabis at three different occasions within a month is known as ongoing dealing. In this case, drugs must be distributed for material gain, such as earning income. The act can involve supplying a variety of drugs at the same time. If a police officer purchases drugs from the same dealer three times within a month, the dealer is charged of ongoing dealing. Arrest should not be made the first day. Penalties applied to supply of drugs depend on the quantity supplied. Those charged with supply of large amounts receive higher penalties compared to victims that supply small quantities. Trafficking offenses are divided into various categories. These include commercial, large commercials, and indictable quantities.The police should provide evidence of the quantity of the drug supply as a proof that person is guity of a certain trafficking offense. The person has the right to prove that the purpose of possessing drugs was not to sell them but use them for other purposes. However, possession of large quantities makes it difficult for an individual to convience the police that drugs were to be used for the purposes other than supply. Other drug offenses include possession of equipments used for taking drugs, possession and cultivation of illegal plants like cannabis, manufacture of drugs, possession of precursors used in the manufacture of drugs, import, and export of illegal drugs (Room et al. 2010, p. 100).
Major Policy Problems related with Criminalization of Drugs
Criminalization of drugs in Australia has increased the rate of crimes in streets and within the household. Large numbers of Australian youths participate in drug trafficking. Because of curiosity, the majority of youths also experiment with different types of drugs. Although prohibition laws are enforced on youths, only small percentage of youths experimenting with drugs are criminalized. Although drug trafficking is outlawed, it still thrives in the blackmarket. Overdependence in drugs has affected the lives of many youths and adults who are mostly in detention. Studies have shown that advantages of the current prohibition of the possession, use, and supply of illegal drugs in Australia outweigh the benefits just like the ban of alcohol between 1920 and 1933 failed in the United States of America. Like other countries, Australia is beginning to see the importance of reviewing laws related to drugs (Deloitte 2011, p. 2).
Deloitte (2011, p. 2) states that criminalization of drugs has increased mortality rate, especially among the youths. In average, 400 Australian youths annually die from consumption of illegal drugs. Moreover, thousands are affected temporary or permanently because of dependence on drugs and infections because of unhygienic practices of injecting drugs into the bloodstream. These effects are not only felt by individual users, but also the larger society. Spread of HIV among youths has increased with increase in consumption of illegal drugs. The culture of sharing drug equipments, such as syringe, to inject drugs into the bloodstream is a major cause of increase in HIV in Australia. The majority of youths drop out of schools at an early age because of drugs. Drug use contributes to poor performance in schools. Other effects of drug use include early and unwanted pregnancies, absenteeism, and lateness at work, domestic violence, negligence of duties, and increased rate of accidents because of driving under the influence of alcohol.
Even after the Howard government decided to impose the “Tough on Drugs” policy to end drug use 15 years ago, illegal drugs are still widely available in the prisons and along the streets in Australia. The culture of consuming illegal drugs is deeply rooted among the youths in the country. Statistics done on the prisons and courts show that most of the victims committed crimes related to use of drugs, and about 3% of the victims were marijuana users arrested annually. The side effects of drug addiction among youths are the major concerns to parents. If there should be any change in policies governing drug use, parents should be assured that the new policies will have positive impacts on the youths. If the government is to adopt new policies, parents should be assured that these policies will improve rather than worsen the present situation (Australian Government 2011, p. 30).
The use of marijuana and heroine for medicinal purposes by patients ceased after the prohibition of those drugs. This has hindered patients from the benefits of those drugs although the provisions of international treaties allow marijuana and heroine use for scientific and medicinal purposes. In some parts of the world, use of marijuana for medical purposes has proved to be effective. In addition, treatment of heroine dependant users using the correct heroine dosage has also shown to be effective socially and medically through minimization of crimes, and improvement of the health and well-being of the patients. Use of heroine for medicinal purposes was banned in Australia in 1953 whereas cannabis was banned in the United States of America in 1937 (Australian Government 2011, p. 35).
Because of problems arising from criminalization of illegal drugs in Australia, other methods, such as regulation, taxation, depenalisation, and decriminalization, have been suggested as the way forward to management of illegal drugs in Australia. The main focus of criminalizing illegal drugs is enforcing laws whereas other options emphasize the side effects of using drugs to individual’s health and society. Although alcohol and nicotine are widely used in Australia and the consequences of their consumption to individual’s health, economy, and society are more harmful than those of illegal drugs, Australian government does not ban them. Social control, taxation, and regulation of nicotine have greatly reduced the use of drugs. On the other hand, relaxation of social controls and regulatory measures have contributed to increase in problems related to alcohol abuse. These drugs are controlled and regulated by Australian government rather than by organized crimes. Australian government should look for alternatives to decriminalization of illegal drugs that are likely to yield positive results. This is because Australia cannot afford to continue realizing deaths of large numbers of youths. Parents and youths should be allowed to participate in the issue of determining the costs and benefits of changing from prohibition of illegal drugs to other methods (Jiggens 2008, p. 276).
A team of famous Australians, such as Bob Carr, the Minister for Foreigh Affairs, and Nicholas Cowdery QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions in NSW, have supported criminal lawyers who have been stressing the importance of banning criminalization of drugs. Nicholas Cowdery argued that criminalization and ban of illegal drugs were responsible for deaths of many youths. In his argument, he emphasized that underground manufacture, use and supply of illegal drugs resulted from criminalization of those drugs. These have increased corruption and the rate of crimes in Australian society. Cowdery suggested taxation, regulation, control, and legalisation of drugs as the only way to solving problems resulting from criminalization of legal drugs. As the attorney general, I support Cowdery’s suggesstions because despite efforts to stop manufacture, supply, and use of illegal drugs in Australia, the business continues to thrive underground, and their effects are very harmful to the society and users. Second, some of the drugs declared illegal are beneficial if used according to directives of physicians. It is clear that the war on drugs in NSW has failed just like in many other countries over the world, which have tried to impose rules banning the use of the certain drugs (Jiggens 2008, p. 278).
Australian Government 2011, Drugs in Australia 2010: tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, Drug Statistics Series no. 27, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.
Degenhardt, L, Day, C, Gilmour, S & Hall, W 2006, ‘The lessons of the Australian heroin shortage’, Subst. Abuse Treat Prev. Policy, vol. 1, pp. 11-18.
Deloitte 2011, Illicit trade of tobacco in Australia: A report prepared for British American Tobacco Australia Limited, Philip Morris Limited and Imperial Tobacco Australia Limited, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Australia.
Jiggens, J 2008, ‘Australian heroin seizures and the causes of the 2001 heroin shortage’, Drug Policy, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 273-278.
Lewis, M 2003, The people’s health: Public health in Australia, 1950 to the present, Greenwood Publishing Group, London.
National Library of Australia 1983, APAIS 2000: Australian public affairs information service, National Library Australia, Canberra.
Room, R, Fischer, B, Hall, W, Lenton, S & Reuter, P 2010, Cannabis policy: Moving beyond stalemate, Oxford University Press, Oxford.